Tennant case may extend past election

by Ron Gregory
CHARLESTON — It appears Secretary of State Natalie Tennant may “slow” a case involving her possible violation of state ethics law past the general election in November.
That is the conclusion of political observers who have watched as the case filed by House Delegate Michel Moffatt has moved forward against Tennant. Some say Tennant is taking advantage of laws she is charged with overseeing to extend the investigation into her own possible violation of the law.
An earlier stay in the investigation slowed down the process and, in a recent letter to Moffatt, the West Virginia Ethics Commission has pointed out that yet another stay may be imminent in the matter. The second delay would likely take the charges past the November general election, where Tennant is opposed by Republican Mac Warner.
The allegations include charges that Tennant was represented on December 4, 2015 at a career day event at Winfield Elementary School. It is alleged that Tennant caused material to be distributed that is in violation of a new state “trinket” law. The objectionable material included pencils, coloring books and other items with either Tennant’s name prominently displayed or her picture on the items.
When the complaint was made, a spokesperson for Tennant said Tennant was not aware of any violation of the trinket law but added that she would “take steps to correct any oversight.”
Recent state legislation has tightened the rules on such “trinkets” and Tennant’s office assisted in writing rules to comply with the new laws. Moffatt, a Republican from the 22nd District, maintains Tennant violated her own rules by passing out the material.
Such complaints are normally private, however attorneys have said that the privacy rules do not prohibit a complainant from making his or her complaint public. Moffatt previously distributed letters filed in the case to public sources. Apparently, a July 8 letter from the Ethics Commission was distributed to many of those same sources.
The Corridor Chronicle obtained a copy of the recent letter from one of those sources. It is signed by Kimberly B. Weber, general counsel for the commission.
In her letter, Weber says the office is in the investigatory stage of the complaint. She writes that commission staff has been working on the matter continuously since the end of a mandatory 60-day stay expired on May 10. Weber goes on to say that staff plans to present its information to the probable cause review board at its August 18 meeting.
The attorney points out that another mandatory stay period would begin on September 8. The stay periods were enacted into law, Weber has said earlier, in an effort to prevent “frivolous” complaints from being filed.
Tennant earlier asked for an extension of time to prepare her response to the charges. “She is clearly doing all she can to push this thing past the November election,” one political pundit said.
If Tennant is successful in postponing any decision until after the general election, the pundit pointed out she might never hear a ruling. “If she wins or loses, it might just become a moot point,” he said.